Letter from the faculty to the International Students, their families, and the community that loves them
July 22, 2020
Grace to you and peace.
We are still processing the news that the rule change for international students taking online courses during the pandemic (stipulating that nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students may not take a fully online course load and remain in the United States, announced on Monday, July 6 by SEVP/ICE/DHS) has been rescinded (as announced on Tuesday, July 14). We are relieved at the cancellation of this threatening rule change, and grateful to the scores of universities, states, municipalities, and corporations who pooled their weight to challenge it in federal court.
We are relieved, but we cannot simply put this experience out of mind or forget the way it has disrupted and unsettled our community. We on the LSTC faculty know that the life of international students in our community is challenging in the best of times, given the distance from family and friends, the rigors and peculiarities of U.S. academic systems, the realities of systemic racism, the challenges of finances, and the uncertainties of navigating the ever-shifting U.S. political and immigration systems. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has layered another level of anxiety and stress on already-existing stressors. And then on July 6th, SEVP added yet another layer of complication and foreboding. While the proposed rule change did not directly affect LSTC and its hybrid instructional model (as Dean Menn clearly laid out and for which [International Student Administrator] Gloria Vicente has meticulously provided documentation), many have felt that this rule change comes with an implied message from the U.S. government to international students: The U.S. doesn’t care about your education or your safety and doesn’t really want you here.
As LSTC faculty, we say to each of you: We care passionately about your education and your safety. And we give thanks to God that you are here and an integral part of our community at LSTC — a community that is incalculably richer for your presence. As Vima Couvertier-Cruz, admissions recruiter and acting international student services coordinator, affirmed, calling out each student’s name during our recent community Zoom call, “I see you, you are important to us, you are valued.”
From its incorporation in 1962, the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago has had global horizons. The initial vision for LSTC was for a theological institution that was urban, ecumenical, and university-related — that is, one located in a cosmopolis, that looked outwards to the entire oikoumenē, and that engaged the widest universitas of teachers and scholars. As if that were not clear enough, LSTC later added global to its list of the “marks of the seminary.” The aspiration, at least, was that LSTC’s global character would be part of the school’s DNA, without which LSTC would not be itself.
The original conception of LSTC as a “global” institution came in a particular historical context: after the horrors of the Second World War, Christians from around the world were gathering—and coming to know one another—in new ways, through organizations such as the Lutheran World Federation [LWF] and the World Council of Churches. The founders of LSTC were impacted by these developments; and throughout the years, LSTC faculty and graduates have been and remain active in global ecumenical organizations, especially the LWF. Today, LSTC’s global commitments are more urgent and valued than ever before, with ongoing partnerships with the LWF, ELCA Global Mission, and ecumenical and interfaith bodies.
LSTC’s global commitments have never been a matter of conforming to a fad or finding an edge over competitors. Rather, they spring from deep Christian commitments, commitments that we enact in our liturgies:
❖ that God’s house is envisioned as a “house of prayer for all people” (Isa 56:7);
❖ that the identity granted in Baptism (“into Christ Jesus”) is deeper and truer (community-creating rather than community-dividing) than the world’s identity markers, including citizenship (Gal 3:26-29; Phil 3:20);
❖ that “the communion of saints” professed in the Apostles’ Creed embraces those of all times and all places, and it is to their prayers that we join our own;
❖ that the Peace we share is Christ’s peace poured out to the world (John 20:21-23);
❖ that the Meal to which we are invited is a foretaste of that banquet in which “many will come from east and west” (Matt 8:11);
❖ that in this Meal, “we who are many are one body, because we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:17);
❖ and that God’s tree of life is “for the healing of the nations” (Rev 22:2).
However, to speak about the “global” character of LSTC could have remained merely aspirational had it not come to be embodied in the LSTC community. And, in fact, scholars have come from all over the world to study at LSTC. You—the community of international students—make LSTC what it is. It is together with you that we strive to learn what it is to be one Body of Christ. It is together with you that we are trained to listen to the witness of “the communion of saints.”
You have made the decision to invest years of your lives in this place and to enliven this community. And we, members of the LSTC faculty, are humbled, moved, and profoundly grateful. We recognize that you have journeyed to where God has called you to be, and we are grateful to witness the work of God through your work and presence here.
In this delicate moment, as we continue to ponder how to live as a community in time of pandemic, and following a government rule change that, even after being rescinded, continues to leave a bad taste, we as a faculty want to repeat some core commitments to you, our international students:
❖ We are committed to your academic success in this place; in particular, those of us who are your academic advisors are committed to attentive accompaniment of you in your programs.
❖ We will advocate for you in other matters that impinge upon your ability to thrive in this place. We promise ongoing attention and conversation, with Dean Menn and Advanced Studies Director Swanson charged with ensuring this. We will consult with you on issues that pertain to you.
❖ In any advocacy beyond our own institution, we will strive to speak and act wisely, so that no one is put at risk.
❖ We keep you in our prayers.
At the center of the word accompaniment is the idea of sharing bread (panis). It is a matter of deep pain that we cannot at the moment gather for meal fellowship, whether informally or at the Table of the Lord. But we pledge to use the means at our disposal to keep our LSTC community connected (including participation, when invited, in activities of the International Students Association), praying that God “bind us together” even as we remain socially distanced.
Yours in Christ,
Members of the LSTC Faculty
Members of the LSTC Faculty